How does Spain’s new euthanasia law compare to others in Europe?

How does Spain's new euthanasia law compare to others in Europe?
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As Spain becomes one of a handful of countries that have decriminalised euthanasia, we look at how its new law compares to other countries' legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Where is it fully legal in Europe?

The Netherlands legalised active and direct euthanasia in 2002.

Lethal doses of drugs are authorised if patients make the request while lucid.

They must also be experiencing unbearable suffering from a condition diagnosed as incurable by at least two doctors.

Last year the country’s highest court ruled that doctors will be able to conduct assisted suicides on patients with severe dementia without fear of prosecution, even if the patient no longer expressed an explicit death wish.

The Netherlands also moved towards making euthanasia legal for terminally-ill children aged between one and 12.

Belgium lifted restrictions on euthanasia in 2002 for patients facing constant, unbearable and untreatable physical or psychological suffering.

They must be aged 18 or over and request termination of life in a voluntary, reasoned and repeated manner, free from coercion.

In 2014 Belgium became the first country to authorise children to request euthanasia if they suffer a terminal disease and understand the consequences of the act.

In Luxembourg a text legalising euthanasia in certain terminal cases was approved in 2009. It excludes minors.

Swiss exception

Switzerland is one of the rare countries that allows assisted suicide with patients administering a lethal dose of medication themselves.

It does not allow active, direct euthanasia by a third party but tolerates the provision of substances to relieve suffering, even if death is a possible consequence.

Australian scientist David Goodall (C) leaves in a wheelchair after a press conference on May 9 2018, on the eve of his assisted suicide in Basel. Goodall, resentful that he was forced overseas to die, did not have a terminal illness but said his quality of life had deteriorated and that he wants to die. He was barred from seeking help to end his life in Australia, so he was forced to travel to Switzerland. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP

 Spain and Portugal are the latest to decriminalise euthanasia

On Thursday March 8th, Spain’s parliament voted through a law allowing euthanasia under strict conditions so terminally-ill or gravely-injured patients could end their own suffering.

In March Portugal’s top court rejected a law decriminalising euthanasia that had been approved by parliament in January.

The bill, which would have legalised access to assisted suicide for adult patients in a situation of “extreme suffering and irreversible damage”, now goes back to parliament for a possible amendment.

Italian compromise

Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 it was not always a crime to help someone in “intolerable suffering” commit suicide. Parliament is set to debate a change in the law banning the practice.

The halting of medical procedures that maintain life, called passive euthanasia, is also tolerated.

Centenarian Helene Wuillemin, seen here at her flat in Laxou, eastern France, went on hunger strike after her applications for euthanasia in Switzerland and Belgium were rejected. Photo :JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP

‘Right to die’

In France a 2005 law legalised passive euthanasia as a “right to die”. A 2016 law allows doctors to couple this with “deep and continuous sedation” for terminally ill patients, while keeping euthanasia and assisted suicide illegal.

Sweden authorised passive euthanasia in 2010 and Ireland also recognises the “right to die”.

Britain has allowed medical personnel to halt life-preserving treatment in certain cases since 2002. Prosecution of those who have helped a close relative die, after clearly expressing the desire to end their lives, has receded since 2010.

In Austria and Germany passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient.

Austria’s constitutional court ruled in October the country was violating fundamental rights in ruling assisted suicide illegal and ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.

Refusing treatment

Denmark has allowed people to file written refusal of excessive treatment in dire situations since 1992, with the document held in a centralised register.

In Norway passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient or by a relative, if the patient is unconscious.

In Hungary people with incurable diseases can refuse treatment.

It is also legal to end treatment of terminally ill people in Lithuania and Latvia.


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